An Invented Tale [Excerpts]
Every now and then you hear calls from critics of Islam for Islam to reform itself--for mosques and madrassas to teach against the Islamic doctrines that inspire terrorists. A dramatic example of this demand occurs in the film Fitna when Geert Wilders invites Muslims to tear the offending pages out of the Koran. In one scene you can hear the sound of tearing pages in the background.
If thy page offend thee, pluck it out? The only trouble with this sort of recommendation is that it assumes that there is enough positive material in the Koran and other foundational documents to form the basics for a reformation. But is there?
According to Moorthy Muthuswamy, an expert on political Islam, “61 percent of the Koran talks ill of unbelievers or calls for their violent conquest and subjugation, but only 2.6 percent talks about the overall good of humanity.” Hmmm. Seems as though that would amount to an awful lot of offending pages.
It’s a similar story when you turn to the sira, the biographies of Muhammad. Take the earliest of these, the one written by Ibn Ishaq. Of the 130 short chapters which detail the life of Muhammad after his arrival in Medina, over 70 are about raids, battles, and assassinations or else they are about preparations for raids and battles, division of spoils, odes upon battles, names of those who fought, etc. According to a content analysis done by Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam, at least 75% of the sira is about jihad. These are inconvenient facts for those who hope Islam can be reformed. No matter how reform-minded you may be, it is difficult to come up with a symbolic interpretation of the Koran’s numerous calls to make war on unbelievers, since that was literally what Muhammad did.
So, rather than encourage Muslims to remove the violent and hateful parts of the Koran, it might make more sense to encourage them to renounce it in toto. The “good” parts of the Koran are so bound up with the “bad” parts that trying to separate them is an impossible task. Besides, there is no warrant in Islamic tradition for picking and choosing. Islamic authorities say that the Koran given to Muhammad is a replica of the original which is inscribed on “imperishable” tablets in heaven. And, just for the record, “imperishable” beats “set in stone” by a wide margin. Talking of reforming Islam by re-interpreting the Koran is like talking about reforming a marble statue. Some things don’t lend themselves to reformation.